“A Joyful Noise” – Steve Hackett talks about his latest album and the current tour. Interview conducted by Alan Hewitt at Steve’s home on 5th April 2019.
TWR: So, tell us a bit about the tracks on the new album…
SH: Well, to throw everyone off the scent we started with something acoustic by Malik Mansurov and… the thought processes, you would be surprised. To start something acoustically that is basically rock with broad shoulders is a way of making quiet things seem quieter and loud things seem louder, by having them side by side - sweet and sour, loud and soft, in and out. So, in the first few seconds there is Malik, followed by drums, Gary (O’Toole) his drums put through a Marshall amplifier to distort them and create a sharp contrast. Then we get the orchestral stuff with Portamento slidey, bendy stuff followed by fast phrases because I’ve done tracks before with slow rhythms and I thought it might be nice to have that contrast so that it wasn’t just an army marching towards you (laughs) rock style, but it had some urgency. It must be no surprise to people that I like slow rhythms, but as I say, the difference this time was to have some fast salvoes over the top. So it makes it a rather strange track in that way. The idea of calling it Fallen Walls & Pedestals was something after the event but I was thinking of the poem by Shelley… Ozymandias…? It was the idea of the passing of time with world leaders being reduced to rubble and ash just like the rest of us.
And that theme sort of continues on with Beasts In Our Time which is really a reference to “Peace In Our Time” of course, Neville Chamberlain’s piece of paper signed by Mr Hilter! (laughs)
TWR: Well, there are some fantastic lyrics in that one as well, the reference to the Daily Wail … Lucifer’s lighthouse, flames for hire… it is so descriptive.. Where did lines like that come from…?
SH: Yeah, it is symbolic, there are clues within it without naming names. I think it is between me and Jo, we were batting ideas backwards and forwards so we were in the moment with that one and that is one of the best lines. It felt really really good. Much of the lyrics were put together that way and we know each other well enough to be able to tell each other when something is boring and when something isn’t. We often do this when we are writing together … “No that’s boring, what you need to say is this.. No, that’s boring” and until we both arrive at something which has got some imagery and symbolism and purpose and it is a very constructive partnership in that way. Sometimes it will be something which Jo has led the way lyrically and sometimes it is me and we don’t interfere with something that is very, very personal …if I am doing a love song for her or if she is talking about a memory of hers such as in Shadow & Flame, her memory of Varanasi … I felt no need to add anything and we just worked with it. The rough version becomes the finished thing, it doesn’t have to go through a Russian judge (laughs) or even X Factor or Strictly.. This that or the other! We don’t have to do that. Sometimes something is just perfect as it is.
Very often it will be a line that one of us comes up with and then the other one responds with another line as we did with Behind The Smoke which is another one I am particularly proud of. It needs that spark at the beginning…I am trying to think of anything else with Fallen Walls & Pedestals… Strangely I had most of it but then I thought perhaps it could have an introduction and I kept thinking of Bud Flanagan and “Run Rabbit, Run” (a wartime song) there is something about the rhythm of that track..(hums the tune) its as if it is at a sort of walking pace in a way and yet somehow it swings in a very deliberately old fashioned on beat kind of way…
TWR: Yeah, but in a way of course, it is a walking pace, that of the rabbit knowing it is going to be bumped off…the pace of the condemned man…
SH: yes, I think so and it is that which holds your attention and you wouldn’t think I would be thinking of it but I got to hear it again recently, there was a collection of old songs and I heard it again and I thought it sounds great and even though it is obviously an old record with all its limitations, somehow there is something perfect about it, there is something where its very limitation becomes a calling card. So, I was thinking of that and I had this rhythm in my head and a phrase and I thought perhaps we can start it with this slow thing and come back to it and not worry that we don’t make it all our energy, we don’t seek to impress all the time we just let it groove in that very old fashioned way. We used a sample of although Roger (King) is playing it single not but we used a sample of a Cymbalum and we twinned that with the Tar which Malik is playing and it gives it a really old fashioned…if I was to place it somewhere I would think of Hungary and I would be thinking of Budapest pre-war and in a way that gave us a springboard because it takes you to this invisible place and this invisible time and then you are into all these rock perspectives and you have got the sort of psychedelic bendy strings, the fast phrases that are possibly more like Yes than Led Zeppelin who cornered the market in slow rhythms.
So, by mixing all these things together I think there was a kind of magic, a kind of alchemy that wasn’t just about Rock. I had something else in mind, I wasn’t just thinking of Rock and I was also thinking of Indian music and Arabic music, the bit with the orchestra bending notes…
TWR: Without wishing to go off topic and on to the dreaded subject of Brexit, those two tracks are to me like.. Waiting to go in and vote, which is Fallen Walls & Pedestals, and then actually, the chaos of the vote which is Beasts In Our Time, you captured two separate moods, probably unintentionally, but they sum up what is going on around the world…
SH: I thought of that, and in a way it is a loose concept that links many of the tracks, not all of them because I think the best albums will have a journey and it is allowed to go off piste, it is allowed to go off the map and music really has to be allowed to wander in order to make it work. I think that if you are always being focused and didactic and trying to keep people to the narrow path it is never going to work in the broad way that the best of music has done in the past, there has always got to be some other factor at work that is running contrary to all the conscious intention of something. So, by the time we get to Beasts In Our Time I was thinking of a kind of a waltz, a kind of a dance of death and I love the way the strings change with the added not harmonies and so that alludes more to Classical music than it does to Rock. The harmonies are more developed because what I was trying to do was something unobvious but take people with it, the idea of being galvanised by something which you couldn’t quite pin down and I kept coming back to it. It is a song without a chorus really.
TWR: I don’t think it needs one. It says what it needs to without the reiteration of a chorus…
SH: We don’t have a chorus, there is a moment on it where I deliberately did something that I wrote with Genesis and I wanted to allude to that because I felt it was undeveloped in the day, that first Genesis album I did with them back in 1971, Nursery Cryme, and I felt yes, let’s allude to that, that’s fine. So it is driven by all of those considerations and I deliberately thought.. What we will do is have guitar and harpsichord doubling each other on the verse and nothing else needs to get in the way of the vocal, let’s just allow it to follow the idea of less is more. Vocals sound bigger when there is less to compete with.
When I was working with Brian May years ago, he was talking about less being more and if you listen to a lot of the Queen things the best moments will just be vocals on their own or with a minimum of backing whether it just Freddie or the great choir that they produced between them. So, learning when not to play and taking a leaf out of the minimalists’ book has always been an idea that I wanted to follow; let’s have less, and then when we have got the works, it sounds so much more powerful. You see, Classical music has instinctively done this, Folk music would if it had enough instruments, but it doesn’t but it has the great melodies and all Classical music is based on Folk melodies and when we talk about people such as Grieg who knew a great melody when he heard it, Tchaikovsky, usually people from the colder climes, didn’t get out enough …
TWR: That is one thing that I have spotted and quite a few other people have commented too, you have been influenced by.. Because I can spot at least two references to Holst… was that subconscious or deliberate..?
SH: Funnily enough, between Holst and Ravel they have really cornered the market in Bolero type rhythms, haven’t they? Whether it is 5/4 or … 6/4 I can’t remember what it is in Bolero and so I had both of those things in mind when we did the piece called Descent. That was really intended as a Japanese bonus track and I found after we had done it, people who were hearing it were saying I really like that and others were saying it sounds really frightening and I hope you use it for something. And I felt it would be a limitation to only have it as a bonus track and so it was done very quickly…
TWR: Tome also and I think I am right and I am hoping that you will tell me, but that piece is also very reminiscent of one of the major pieces from Metamorpheus..
SH: The same idea, the descending sequence that is always.. I have been trying to do those lots and lots of times and think this time, and it is the third time I have tried to do that, with a hypnotic rhythm, a one note rhythm, this time I gave full vent to the idea of using tri tones three note chords that literally go down a semi tone at a time and they are all absolutely chromatic and so, for a guitarist, all you are doing is moving the strings a fret at a time and it is the simplest idea in the world and yet somehow when that is transferred over to the keyboard, aka: orchestra because that is what you are triggering, they sound extraordinarily sinister, and relentless and mechanical and it is an evocation of war and think Holst came close but I always wanted to go a stage further and make it more mechanical and I didn’t want to have those cheery moments that Mars has.
There’s an aspect of what Folk music calls a Jig and rockers call, a Shuffle and the second half of that is, in a way, letting the beasts out, I read a book which you might be interested in, by Lars Eriksen called In The Garden Of Beasts and it is about the build up towards the Second World War, a very interesting book - Night of the Long Knives, Kristalnacht, things which presaged the outbreak of war and it centres on the experiences of the American Ambassador to Berlin. I had had the book for along time and I had only got a few pages into it and I suddenly thought I must finish it, and as I read on I found fascinating and frightening at the same time, the way the walls seemed to be closing in as I was reading this thing. And so I took one of the lines out of it for that. And the influences from the source material that had influenced that and it was rich in imagery. So not for the first or last time books play a big part …
TWR: The Last three tracks, I think I remember mentioning this to you last time, to me the last three tracks were a musical Dante’s Inferno in a way.
SH: Well, we are all doomed because every man and woman has to die, therefore we are all doomed it is merely a case of; are we eternally doomed or are we merely doomed in terms of our earthly existence? Which is where I place my bets. So, yes we are and yes we are not at the same time. If we are jumping ahead to Peace, it was Jo who suggested that we do it as a triptych or trilogy, because I didn’t really have anywhere for Descent to go other than into conflict and so she said why don’t you call it Conflict? And she also suggested calling the last track Peace with a resolution that is both peaceful but also a love song and it is philosophical and leads to the afterlife, the journey and mankind’s journey and the personal journey one has from being a child, being a young thug to the man of peace that I hopefully, am today. The civilising effect of living itself.
TWR: This album seems to be more… the last two or three have all been, once again, big scale, cinematic, panoramic vistas, but this one seems to me to be, even among all those massive landscapes and whatever, there is still the figure of you and it is very, very personal…
SH: I tried to keep it personal and this might be of relevance or it might not be; I wanted to do an album that had lots of orchestra I wanted it not to be constrained by the idea of what is an acceptable amount of orchestra used, or orchestral or world instruments that are used on a Rock album. I had the idea that perhaps we could do a fully orchestrated Rock album and not worry about the street credibility or worry about the amount of electric guitars that were on it, the amount of violins and all the rest. So some of it is real, some of it is sampled, and the orchestrations which Roger (King) wanted to be credited for are really, really good. He worked hard on that and you can’t tell the difference, the tools are very good now and better than ever and sometimes we track it with the real thing and sometimes we don’t bother! Sometimes you want something to sound mechanical and there is no point in humanising it further. One doesn’t always want reality. Back in the days of the humble Mellotron as we think of it now it had an unearthly quality that gave the music something; as if it was characters from fairyland in a way. Not quite real, just on the edge or the periphery of vision, the periphery of what was credible as strings, flutes, brass etc. And of course, I fell in love with the Mellotron and fell in love with the real thing, the orchestra ever since but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t love my old girlfriend (laughs).
TWR: I do find that this project is more earthy than the two albums that have preceded it, it seems to have amore grounded basis to it. Maybe that is because of the subject matter of some of it, and one track in particular which fascinates me, as I know very little about the background to it, is Underground Railroad. Was that inspired by reading something, or…
SH: Two things, when I was in Wilmingtom Virginia, walking along the riverside and the local dignitaries that were mentioned, Harriet Tudman was an ex slave who was involved with a network that became known as the Underground Railroad that enabled other slaves to escape. She was reckoned to have a sixth sense which meant she was not captured and out to death horribly, thank God, and I gather it was quite a success story.
Then, two years or so later, I read a book by Colson Whitehead called Underground Railroad which was recommended amongst others by President Obama, and it was an extraordinary read about the same thing. And each time, it seemed as if the title of this was dangling before me in lights saying I think there’s a song here for you so I got going and I think the second half of the song came first as these things often do where the train song aspect was there and I thought if you are going to clothe this song in suitable instruments it ought to be pure Americana so, harmonica, dobra - sliver guitar, metallic a little bit like a banjo would be right for it. Then there are the electric instruments which allow it to build.
The first half was an afterthought, the idea of doing something in Gospel style with the McBroom sisters who we had befriended each other and I have enormous respect for their skills and their family background and as I talked to them further, more and more gets revealed. I was worried at first that they might find it patronising, here’s me; a white guy who knows nothing about this and I said to them, how do you feel about this? Thinking they might object, but on the contrary they thought it was very timely, again…Beasts In Our Time and they warmed to the subject matter and sang the balls off it. So it is part train song, part Gospel. It is only a matter of time before someone does a film called Underground Railroad. The subject matter is so important at this moment in time when these social divisions that threaten to blow apart not just countries but the world itself. So for me it is a protest song by way of illustration and again, Jo and I wrote the lyrics together and I think the first half is Jo’s lyrics and the second half is mine. But then it gets passed around and she had the idea of Keep on moving til the shackles are gone… and I thought that is a difficult lyric to sell to people convincingly but luckily, I think the melody line was convincing enough and joyous enough to make it work without it being too contrived.
Then also there is this idea throughout the album that I didn’t want to rely on one voice, I thought lets have different voices, lets have choirs, and not just one type of choir throughout the album and so you have got solo voice, you have got vocal harmonies with Amanda (Lahmann) and she is also on this track and you have got the McBroom sisters with the whole Soul meets Gospel meets Blues. You have got an aspect of Hollywood choir, you have an aspect of a choir singing in Latin so that the vocals don’t sit still.
Again, to throw people off the scent, if people can’t stand my voice, I do sympathise..(laughs) but it means that there is not just one vocal picture, there’s not just one singer on this thing. Most of the singing is real some of it is. It always was real but it is only in real time but the choirs are particularly convincing, technology affords that and has done for many years but it is getting better all the time. I think of it as a film, I think of it as a story, it’s a book and you are from Liverpool, we have visited the Slavery Museum as had the McBrooms, and you see that and you are haunted forever just by the photographs and so I make no excuses for doing that. It’s a grownup song. The McBrooms felt that the subject matter was timely and they liked what I did with it and it is always nice to have people who have taken part, they don’t have to say nice things, but luckily that has been a big plus.
I had guitar at the beginning, slide guitar and I thought, this gets in the way, it robs them of. And they said, no you should keep that, after all, you are a guitarist! (laughs) and I thought, this bit is all about you guys and there was plenty of guitar to follow after that. It just wasn’t the right moment for the guitar to rip and do that joyous thing and some of the electric slide guitar has got that fluid thing and it motors along like a good’un once it gets going. It took off on its own as so much of this has.
TWR: So, we move from Americana and timely American to another evocation of another place, India with Shadow & Flame. Tell me a bit about that one…
SH: OK, lyrically, Jo’s experiences in a place called Varanasi where she was literally watching the sun coming up over the Ganges one morning. She said it was both beautiful and horrific at the same time because although you see all these Vedas in a golden light, at the same time you see dead bodies floating down the river and they are going to be put in the Ghats to be burned and I don’t know how that works and at some point the birds eat whatever is left. I haven’t seen this stuff but she has face to face and so the opening stuff is really her words, her journey. We did have a journey to India ourselves and so it is a mixture of her previous experience and my subsequent experience plus we worked with Sheema Mukherjee who is a great virtuoso sitar player. She came in here and I had never seen her before and everyone said she is amazing and I saw her do something amazing, in one go she did her solo, nothing changed, no drop ins and she did it at an early point of the song where we just had a bit of a click track and a bit of this and a bit of that and she said I would like to hear the song when it is finished so I played her the finished thing before it was released and find that is a bad idea just in case someone says, I hate this, I won’t put my name to it, what were you thinking? (laughs) But actually she said you followed Raga form on this and she really liked it. I said, I don’t know what Raga form is but I seem to have done that instinctively. Again I think there is a correlation between what she felt about this and what the McBroom sisters felt about Underground Railroad, where I am opting in and out of character a bit like a character actor or imagining myself in the shoes of..what would it be like if I had all that history… I have to let the ghosts of others inhabit me in my dreams in order to come up with this kind of stuff.
TWR: The problem you have got with trying to do something that is in an Indian frame of music is, you could come across, with the greatest respect, as the kind of music you hear played in a curry house…But this, I listen to the riff and the rhythm of it and to me it is somebody riding on a mahout on an elephant.. It is India!
SH: We wanted to capture India, we a wanted to capture the hustle and bustle of Mumbai and what it is like travelling through India because it is every bit as awe inspiring as one can imagine. So, we have encountered elephants, cows, everything in the middle of the street and it is all going on there is no separation between life in its many varied forms and life and death, yes, we saw death and I felt beforehand, I am really taking a chance because you have to put sanity to one side and say, OK, I am going to India and it is to some degree you are putting your head in the mouth of the tiger and praying that it is not going to bite it off. But in the great circus of becoming that is life I felt it was worth doing and I would not have been without the experience and India is incredible. From the ancient temples that we saw, some of which have literally been carved out of one monolith, it is extraordinary. A lot went on a thousand years ago. So all of that is bound up with that track and it has got really explosive drums.
TWR: It is India in miniature, but at the same time, the music is vast…
SH: yeah, it is, it is very big and I think the production on it is fantastic and I love the production particularly on that track and I have tried to do Indian things before and I have come close but this one seems, it would be hard to do an Indian track after this because this is the film of India, the film for the ears which I have always been trying to make. India is a wonderful and terrifying place, it is all side by side. The guitar plays an unusual part in it because when the guitar is introduced, not until half way through the tune or in the last third of the tune, I have got just the frozen echo of some guitar notes that I played that were triggered from keyboard and this continuous echo and I think of that as pure spirit kicking in underneath the rhythm that the sitar is making where Sheema goes to a repeated riff. Whilst that is all still going on, whilst the motor of the song is continuing with drums and tabla and Sheema, it is as if the guitar overhangs it in a very spooky, kind of Kali like manner where the guitar starts to sound supernatural, ethereal, as if it was looking down on everything and then the guitar starts to focus slowly forwards after we have some orchestra courtesy of Roger and just at the end of one day’s recording I did three different guitar solos; one fast, one slow and one backwards and we played them back consecutively so we don’t worry too much that they crash into each other because although they are all electric guitar, they all provide a different function and they contrast each other so I don’t think they get in each other’s way but alluding to the Sixties when you might have two guitars both soloing at the same time courtesy of Eric Clapton with Cream, this time you got three, never mind just one! (laughs) And it is go to that extreme. I think the whole of this album is an extremist’s charter. The idea is: why not? Why can’t you have three guitars? Why not? Lots of producers will tell you, you shouldn’t really do that, you don’t want that to get in the way so it is the opposite of the less is more, this is a moment when you can employ that philosophy but then you can go maximalist and you can allow it all to hang out and it is all still mixed carefully so all those last guitar moments were done in one go at the end of the day, you know, gotta get on a plane and go somewhere … (laughs) that sort of approach, so you have the spontaneity of that. And something magic happened. For my money something magic happened on each of the tracks and I always say that money cant buy, and thought can’t buy and time can’t buy but instinctively it seems that everything that I went for came off on this album, he said proudly, because that doesn’t happen every time. It has happened I would say three times in my career; it happened with Selling England By The Pound, it happened with Spectral Mornings. In other words, all the conditions that were set up but no one knows if the alchemy, that central other thing is spirit going to kick in 100%? Sometimes it does but it is not going to happen on every album or every song..
TWR: When you are trying to do the musical gymnastics that you are trying to do with these projects.. Basically it is a musical Olympics that you are trying to do and it won’t always work.
SH: No it won’t, if you are going to invent another sport each time …
TWR: Exactly! But it always seems.. It certainly seems to have done on this album as it did on the previous two, but we have got all these wonderful ideas, evoking times, places, but then of course, we have got one track which is dedicated to a person - On These Golden Wings, which is obviously about Jo…?
SH: Yes, it is a love song written for Jo and I had written a certain amount of it and then she started writing about us and so I combined the two and so some of it is me, certainly the first verse, is my view of her particularly her early years of being a loner and not being part of the crowd and being a very thoughtful and lonely person. She always had need of a partner. She had very loving parents but she was always was aware that there was apart of herself that was missing and she told this very poignant story of growing up in Seaford and sitting on the sea wall looking out to sea and wondering when her partner would come and all these years later… We returned there the other day and we hugged each other and it was not just that her dream worked out, but mine too and so we both always needed each other. Of course there have been other loves, but somehow I wanted to do a song that was worthy of her and complex, because she is not a straight ahead person, she surprises me every day with her observations…
TWR: That is the thing when the song suddenly goes from the descriptive side and then the next minute there is what totally took me by surprise, when you recycled Hercules Unchained for an unholy guitar moment…
SH: Well, it was hard to get away from that riff because I thought that was an under explored riff then and I have probably under explored it now, and it was a damn good riff. So that is in there, the orchestral stuff is in there, the choral stuff is in there..
TWR: That’s what I love about it, it threw me but you have managed to capture the essence of Jo, she is a complex person, there’s the drama, the romance, there’s a bit of steel, there is everything, it is all there…
|SH: Yeah, I wanted it to be appropriate for her and so it is a journey as is every love story perhaps and everyone’s individual story the journey through life, the journey that we experience as individuals, the one which we experience, if we are lucky, as a couple, and one gets to share that. And the philosophical ideas that are bound up with it, so you find a lot of these songs which might be love songs have also got a sort of spiritual idea; the spiritual quest that is life. There is the idea of destiny and development and I don’t want to use the word life lessons because that feels too boring
It’s an adventure, through the eyes and ears of others through books and a passport to other worlds, some real, some imaginary, Of This & Other Worlds - that book down there (indicating a book on the book shelf) a lovely compilation of ideas by C S Lewis, our old friend and all that.
TWR: You have had this adventure with Jo, but you have shared this adventure with an awful lot of other people. Tell us a bit about them and how you found them. You can’t just find them in the ’phone book, how do you encounter the likes of Sheema or the likes of the McBroom sisters for example…
SH: Sheema was a recommendation, the McBroom sisters I had worked briefly with them live with Dave Kerzner and so I met them individually and I met the collectively and we talked about doing something and then we did! Other people, Jonas Reingold for example, on Under the Eye Of The Sun, I was working on that idea with Roger, again lyrically very much driven by Jo, this idea of trying to reflect this idea of nature which appears static but you get so much energy off the great rocks, the great constructions and monuments that you see in Monument Valley or Ularu - Ayers Rock and places such as Petra in Jordan and the idea of T E Lawrence being in those same sort of places out with the Bedouin, this great journey. And how to describe these things which are effectively static but the energy comes from the fact that these things have been baked in the sun, haven’t they? And things that were on the bottom of the ocean are now above it and if you could see a sped up film of how that was all created, you would have an idea of why I couched the song in furiously fast musical terms - fast bass work, fast drums. Largely driven lyrically by Jo and the challenge for me was how do I come up with music that is appropriate for static objects? And the only was to do it at a furious pace, as you say, time lapse musicology - that’ll do it for me! (laughs). And Roger was coming up with ideas for bass lines and the rough sounded damn good but when we had Jonas doing it, a real human doing it, who is an incredible virtuoso bass player. He is an extraordinary bass player, what can I tell you?
It has drums by Gulli Briem, who is Icelandic, the second time I have worked with him on record, always sounds incredible, we have a moment in the middle where we have Duduk played by Rob (Townsend) a drone Duduk twinned with Yadaki - Didgeridoo, a drone section as if one is underground or in a cave. Its another kind of power that I felt from another centre of the earth, what is it like to be inside a cave, inside one of nature’s cathedrals, as contrasted with looking at one from a distance,. Another nature based, Shinto inspired song. And in many of these places where nature is allowed to create its own monuments untrammelled you do feel as if you are in the same place when you are standing facing stuff that you see in Uluru and other places, you could be in the same place its as if all deserts are really the same place but the spirit seems to throw up incredible shapes; incredible stuff is going on.
TWR: What is the back story to Hungry Years?
SH: Well, there was a place which both Jo and her sister Amanda, used to visit which was called The Hungry Years in Brighton and it was a watering hole cum disco and I gather that the music was played incredibly loud and so I was after music that was a kind of a throwback, it has a deliberately Sixties feel to it. It is basically Folk Rock and acoustic instruments are what kicked it off. It is a simple song, it is deliberately naïve harmonically but it is an excuse to have some harmony singers doing their thing that is really it. It is me, Amanda, we are tracked up together and it is unashamedly Folk Rock it has almost got a kind of Revival feel to it.
What’s difficult with albums is getting them to flow as if it was always intended to be that way, like a sculptor I guess, he said pretentiously (laughs) you have to look at the figure that is within the rock but I feel the same way about the order of songs. The order of songs and their entitlement if I may call it that, in the naming of songs and I spend quite along time over that and sometimes the most outrageous ideas are the ones that work best and if something doesn’t work and I need another piece of music to make these things work I will say, hold it, we’ve got to come up with another atmospheric section. It was very difficult for instance, to place Those Golden Wings but after Underground Railroad it was the right place for it with the orchestral bit on the front which once again was an afterthought but they are important because you can always position something before, after or in the middle of something else and you need to keep all your options open to do a great album, and I don’t care who you are, you have got to keep all your options open so that the pacing works and think this is the first album that I have ever done which does not have a completely acoustic track on it and it is the first album where I have not had a standalone nylon guitar track. That is because I wanted to keep the pace up, you see …For it not to matter for the first time and so I thought, is anyone going to complain? And nobody has! There are a few moments of acoustic work but what the hell…
TWR: So, we go from that drama to the drama that is about to unfold and the tour that you are about to unleash upon the world. Selling England By The Pound and Spectral Mornings, together…?
SH: I know. Not only am I doing the whole of Selling England along with Déjà Vu which is a track that Pete kicked off with the band in ’73 and it is a track which fell foul of band politics which I thought potentially was a really gorgeous tune and many years later I said to him do you mind if I finish that tune? So that justice is eventually seen to be done in as much as I can bring justice to it, and he said go ahead, we’ll share the writing credits.
Nad said to me oh, why don’t you do that track as part of it? And I said, give me time to think about that but it feels as if we have already stood on stage and done thin it feels so right. And we have changed the key to suit his voice which is a little bit lower than Paul Carrack’s. I know he can hit all the same notes that Paul did but I wanted to optimise things so we changed the key from G to F and it feels like it is going to be… All I can say is it feels like it is going to be really good. I have only rehearsed it so far with Roger and Jonas and myself because we have to have these pre band rehearsals in order to fully understand the interlocking guitar parts that happen between you know, twelve string and the keyboard and vari axes and whatever current technology we are using to get all that chiming stuff together. But I am heartened by the way those rehearsals went and I can’t wait to do it with the full band.
TWR: As great as Selling England is, from my perspective it is the prospect of hearing Spectral Mornings that is making me drool…
SH: Well, I would say we are probably doing most of Spectral although I am not doing every last thing and so apologies for those who think that that should be done in its entirety but I am doing what I think are the strongest moments from it…
TWR: So, without giving too much of the game away, what is not being done…?
SH: I am not attempting The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man! I think that that was just a bit of fun at the time and I don’t think too many people are going to miss it! (laughs) The end of the pier aspect of that. So, I am not doing Lost Time In Cordoba and I am not doing the vocal version of Tigermoth but I am doing the instrumental version that we used to do and I feel that the strongest moments of Tigermoth if I may say so, lyrically it was strong but it is the instrumental stuff that best reflects the lyric.
I will attempt the whole of Spectral Mornings with its attendant introduction which I haven’t done since 1979. The difficulty in doing it as I remember it we had two things playing the lead line, one was the synth doing the impression of an oboe and an E Bow played on guitar and we were never able to get the two in tune with each other until many, many years later I realised that if you played a note with an E Bow and an electronic tuner the note became flat when you played with an E Bow, it drags the note flat so we could never quite get it sounding right. Also you need someone to arpeggiate whilst that is going on so I didn’t realise that at the time and you also need the voices to be done. The voices on that were my voice put on to a Mellotron so we will get something like it and think it will be close enough hopefully.
Its like doing The Virgin & The Gypsy which I only ever attempted a few times live, I just didn’t think we had the technology to pull it off but we have got now, as I say, three things; twelve string, harpsichord, and Vari Axe and of course, they all sound a little bit like each other but when they all chime together if it sounds anything like it did here when we were rehearsing it, it is a beautiful sound. You need harmony vocals and that has got to be right.
TWR: So, you are balancing that, you have got all of Selling England, most of Spectral… What else do you manage to fit in between those? I am assuming the new album will get a look in at some point?
SH: Yeah, the new album, at the moment we are looking at doing Fallen Walls & Pedestals, Beasts In Our Time and Under The Eye Of The Sun so far those are the ones that are the contenders. I hope in later years to be able to do Descent, Conflict and Peace because I think there is more in this album than is being allowed at this point in time and it has hit the charts big time in ten different countries, it went to number six here in the midweek chart, it was number four in Germany.
TWR: What other stuff of your own will you be incorporating into the set or haven’t you decided on that yet?
SH: I think there might be a couple of more things that we will do. But maybe I will leave them to surprises. At this point. Otherwise of course if I mention something here and it doesn’t work out ! (laughs). I said \I would do the whole of Selling England and I am looking forward to doing that again and it is a strange thing, we stopped doing The Battle of Epping Forest live I think because in America it made absolutely no sense and I couldn’t get the echo unit to work at the correct speed for that in time echo bit and so we couldn’t get that right back in the day. Back in the Seventies but when I worked with Genetics in Argentina they did that song and I had the chance to hear it at a distance and I thought, you know what, it is a really good song…and when you are doing it, you don’t know. Bands aren’t always the best ones to judge, the parents don’t always know best. Time and time again I have had these dreams about being on stage and off at the same time and particularly with my Genesis period where I believe as I have said before, that the audience are the true owners and unless you can sit back and be an unprejudiced listener and allow yourself to put yourself in the audience’s shoes quite literally as I used to do and go out with a very long lead and see what was happening onstage and hear it. When you have got the responsibility for being everyone else’s night out and you are onstage doing it you don’t have any idea of when it is going right. I have seen bands come offstage and go great gig guys, and they have said, yeah but wasn’t the sound terrible? Wasn’t it awful and that was wrong and this that and the other.. Fred fucked up in the second verse (laughs) and it is a case of, I’m sorry, you are talking about hell and I am talking about something that seemed heavenly to me. I have seen the magic work and the angels take over I think, that’s what happens and it is good to separate yourself from it.
I am quite prepared to accept other people’s criticism, I am an extremely severe critic of my own work but it has been criticised in order to get it to the point where it is, I mean earlier albums there wasn’t the technology to fix things like there is now and I bring experience to bear but the dream is still inviolable, the intention is everything and precision is not all it is cracked up to be. It is not an end in itself.
TWR: When do you actually start the tour?
SH: It is basically the second half of this month and we are away for about seven weeks in Europe at least we intend to provided they will allow us in! Brexit permitting…(laughs). Nobody knows if we need carnets or stuff like that, nobody knows. I have taken out insurance so that I don’t lose my shirt if we can’t put on any shows because of politics but there you go. Then we have American shows and the British shows in the autumn and then next year we will probably do Australia and South America and Japan so the chances are that this tour might take up to two years to complete because I think that what I am doing is essentially three personal favourite albums I am not doing it just because it is the anniversary of Spectral although it will be forty years. I was talking to Nick Magnus who I saw a couple of days ago, and we were talking about yeah, forty years and he said it doesn’t seem like forty years and I said, no it doesn’t does it? He is still doing great work. I love Spectral and in fact every time I put it on now when I am rehearsing it and even if I leave it accidentally and the thing goes to Every Day and just to hear those notes. You know, Chester (Thompson) did an album called A Joyful Noise and think that is a Biblical quote, and I think well, I wasn’t intending to please the Lord (laughs) but Spectral Mornings does have that from the very first note and it is a joyful noise. It comes in major key and the chords aren’t straight you know, they are all messed with. It is still a joy for me to play and I think that something special happened on that album. There are sufficient, dare I say it; djins because I treasure them as personal memories on that, that it is something you can’t plan for. As I said, musicians go in and we do the same things each time. We set up, we plug in and we play and you hope but sometimes you get the hope and the glory.
And, as you can read from the reviews elsewhere in this edition, the band certainly got the glory they thoroughly deserved! My thanks as always to Steve and Jo for giving up so much of their time to make this happen.